The Volkswagen Polo has been much improved in MK6 model form. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Why would you buy a Volkswagen Polo? You wouldn't buy it on price, because there are many rival superminis that cost less. Many of these cars will have more equipment inside them. Some will even be nicer to drive. That much-vaunted Volkswagen build quality is, statistically at least, something that the Japanese and Koreans covered off some time ago. So what's the appeal?
It's simple. The Polo is all about understated refinement or, to put it another way, conspicuously not trying too hard to impress. Now this is a very hard trick to carry off. Try too hard and this Volkswagen loses its cool. Don't try hard enough and the car looks like a complacent trinket for posers, which is possibly even less desirable. So with this current sixth generation Polo, the Wolfsburg brand is looking to land it square in that profitable sweet spot.
Almost every car has its unique selling points. With this Polo, these lie in quality and comfort, delightful damping having long been a traditional attribute in a Volkswagen supermini. Given that even the previous rather crudely platformed version of this model managed to cruise over potholes and tarmac tears that would upset most of its rivals, we expected that the stiff sophistication of this sixth generation design's all-new MQB A0 chassis would lift it even further clear of its competitors in this regard.
Which is, by and large, how it's turned out. We were told that this new generation Polo would ride like a much larger car and sure enough it does, easily shrugging off pock-marked urban surfaces. And that's despite the lack of anything particularly advanced in terms of suspension design. Certainly, many competitor brands are going to want to know how a straightforward MacPherson strut-front and torsion beam-rear set-up can deliver damping this good. It handles higher speed undulations brilliantly too - one writer described the response as being akin to 'riding on jewelled bearings'. Even larger wheel sizes don't seem to upset it much.
And engines? Well all the options are now three cylinders, petrol-powered and 1.0-litre in size. Your choices start with a three-cylinder 1.0-litre MPI unit with 80PS, which sits below two 1.0-litre three-cylinder TSI engines with either 95 or 110PS. 7-speed DSG automatic transmission is optional on those TSI petrol models.
Design and Build
So low key is the Polo's styling that the changes made to this MK6 model may be lost on some customers. Perhaps more obvious though, is this sixth generation design's larger size. It's now only slightly shorter than a MK4 Golf used to be and, thanks to a longer wheelbase than that car, significantly larger inside. To be specific, this MK6 Polo is 81mm longer than its predecessor, making it now over 4m long. It's now also slightly lower in stance and 69mm wider. Volkswagen thinks that the resulting stretched silhouette is 'more masculine', you decide.
In profile, the new styling is defined by an arrow-shaped 'tornado' double line, while at the front, there's a smarter grille flanked by headlamps that can be optionally ordered with full-LED beams. Inside, the vertically-orientated dashboard of the previous model has been replaced with horizontal architecture and a higher placement for the new centre-dash infotainment screen; this monitor varies in size between 6.5 and 8-inches, depending on the variant you select. An upper cross-panel flows across the dash into the doors and can be colour-personalised to suit your taste. As an option, buyers can replace the usual dash dials with Volkswagen's 'Active Info Display' TFT virtual screen gauges.
Market and Model
List pricing for this car actually starts from around £17,000. In practice though, it's pretty difficult to imagine many Polo owners paying less than £18,000 and most will be shelling out a figure somewhere in the £19,000 to £20,000 bracket. The range kicks off with 'Match', 'beats' and 'United' trim levels, all of which can be had in their most affordable form with the 80PS 1.0-litre powerplant we're tying here.
If you can stretch to the altermative TSI 1.0-litre turbo engine, you'll also get the opportunity to spend another £1,350 on Volkswagen's 7-speed DSG auto gearbox, available whether you choose the 95PS version of this engine or the 110PS variant of this unit that comes with plusher models. 'SEL' and 'R-Line' trim levels round off the range.
'Match'-spec customers get the 'Car-Net' 'App-Connect' system that allows use of the 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto'/'MirrorLink' systems that enable you to 'mirror' the display of your smartphone onto the centre-dash screen. All 'Match' models get 15-inch alloy wheels, an alarm, body-coloured door handles and mirrors, a more sophisticated trip computer, rear electric windows and a variable-height boot floor. Plus the split-folding rear seat and power-adjustable mirrors missing from the base spec.
So there you have it: 'Match'-spec gives you pretty much everything you really need in this Volkswagen. And if you want a little more, there's an alternative 'United' variant with the same engines that comes with standard navigation and access to Volkswagen's clever 'We Connect Plus' app for remote control of vehicle functions. Plus, with 'United' spec, you get smarter 'Dublin'-style 15-inch alloy wheels, auto headlamps and wipers, cruise control and 'Atlantic Blue' interior trim.
Cost of Ownership
All of the Polo engines on offer are decently frugal.Let's get to the WLTP-rated fuel and CO2 stats. With the base unit, the 80PS version of the 1.0-litre MPI engine - which is what we've got here - you're supposed to be able to achieve up to 51.5mpg on the combined cycle and up to 125g/km of CO2. In contrast, in a 95PS 1.0 TSI turbo variant, those figures improve to 52.7mpg and 122g/km with a manual gearbox, improving slightly to 53.8mpg and 119g/km if you opt for that 1.0-litre TSI engine with a manual gearbox and 110PS.
What else? Well, the three year/60,000 mileage warranty isn't anything to write home about in a marketplace where other rivals offer more. But there is a choice of either 'Fixed' or 'Flexible' servicing regimes, depending on the mileage you expect to cover, the 'Fixed' package appropriate for cars covering under 10,000 miles a year. Residual values will continue to be strong: with the previous generation version, you could expect to get between 44 and 51% of your original purchase price back after three years or 36,000 miles. We don't expect that kind of showing to change much this time round.
The Volkswagen Polo formula has worked well to date, but competition in the supermini sector has ramped up not by a notch or two but by a great hulking leap thanks to the arrival of cars in this class like new versions of the Ford Fiesta, the Citroen C3, the SEAT Ibiza and the Kia Rio. Beating models of that kind isn't as easy for Volkswagen as it used to be. The Polo previously appealed on classy minimalism but most people these days want slick electronics and a greater feeling of design input inside their small cars. Volkswagen has responded and done so with typical thoroughness.
Little about the Polo's dynamics or efficiency really represents a best in class showing. But what makes this car so good is that it's there or thereabouts in most categories but doesn't get beaten by anyone when it comes to perceived quality. That's key. That reassuring feeling that your second-largest capital purchase is money well spent ought to guarantee this car's place at the top table.